Police Community Support Officers in Devon are putting on fire helmets to attend emergency calls and provide valuable prevention advice to the public in an innovative pilot scheme designed to improve public safety and save money.
This pioneering initiative joining up the police and fire emergency services combines the roles of PCSOs and retained firefighters to create PFCSOs. PCSOs have been trained to operate as retained firefighters and will carry pagers and respond to fire calls when they are on duty as PCSOs. This scheme will initially operate from seven fire stations in Devon but if successful, may be extended. While there are some similar approaches with tri-service officers adopted in other parts of the country, this scheme is different as the powers that PCSOs have are drawn from police powers rather than the local authority. The PFCSOs will provide invaluable cover during weekdays in particular when the fire and rescue service struggle to provide the required cover for retained stations.
Area Manager Neil Blackburn, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, has been instrumental in assisting to move this work forward. He said, “As well as providing a better service and reducing costs, this will also help us to provide fire response cover in communities where we have struggled to recruit sufficient retained officers who can provide cover during office hours because of their own work commitments, so it really does provide both services and the community with significant benefits. We feel that the role of a PCSO fits really well with that of locally-based fire officers and have had a great deal of interest from PCSOs locally which is really encouraging.”
Feedback from PFCSOs has also been invaluable. Peter Hyde, Police and Fire Community Support Officer, said, “When I initially applied to become a PCSO it was to help the community. So when the opportunity came up to join the pilot with the fire service and expand the work I can do within the community I jumped at the opportunity. Working with the fire service is something I had previously looked at, but was unable to do due to the demands of the police shift pattern. I am looking forward to this new challenge.”
From a policing perspective, Devon and Cornwall Police Inspector Roger Bartlett, based in Ilfracombe, said, “There are two main aims to this work. The first is to retain a visible uniformed presence in our communities in the face of significant ongoing cuts to our services. By sharing the cost of these officers we hope to protect frontline officers who deliver such an essential engagement and safeguarding role in communities. The second aim is to provide a better more joined up service where officers visiting premises or engaging with community groups can not only deliver crime-related advice but also fire safety advice that will protect people from harm.”
Tony Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, said, “The police service is very clear on where it wants to go and this scheme fits in to the changing vision of the police. The police and fire roles in the community can complement each other to address vulnerability and provide a better service to the public.”
Peter Heaton-Jones MP, North Devon, said: “This is an exciting pilot project. Greater collaboration between the police and fire services is a sensible and efficient use of resources, which also provides better coverage in terms of public safety. I’ve visited both the fire service and the police in recent months and am hugely impressed with the work they do. This pilot project takes it one step further, and I will be watching it with great interest.”
The scheme will run for two years and feedback from those involved as well as the public will be collated and inform future delivery options.